KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs coach Andy Reid referred to Jamaal Charles as day-to-day for the first time in his recovery from a torn ACL nearly a year ago, making his season debut appear inching ever-closer.
But it’s a toss-up if that debut comes this week. Charles continued mixing in and out between the first-team and the scout-team offenses, and is listed as questionable on the team’s status report.
“He looks like he’s getting better all the time,” Reid said. “We’ll just have to see how he does here today.”
Reid maintains, reasonably so, that Charles will return when he’s healthy and ready to play, yet not a minute sooner. But the Chiefs also haven’t need Charles yet with Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and Knile Davis available in the backfield.
West already is out for the Steelers game, making running back depth a bit thinner. If Charles sits, the Chiefs have only two healthy half backs for the Steelers. The team can fill in on an emergency basis with Tyreek Hill, a former college running back who has lined up in the backfield at times as a rookie.
Playing Charles provides the Pro Bowler an opportunity to test himself in game action, then immediately gain extra rest with the bye week.
It’s pure speculation whether Charles plays Sunday, and the are arguments both for and against. But don’t expect the Chiefs to play Charles unless they are confident he is 100 percent ready to play.
1. The Rip Van Winkle offense
When a team’s defense generates eight turnovers, the offense merely needs to sleepwalk through the game to get the win. The Chiefs tired offense did exactly that last week against the Jets.
Eventually Alex Smith than the offense must stake off the rust and show the fire they displayed in training camp and the preseason. Brutally efficient describe the offense then, now brutal alone does the job.
The Chiefs indeed show flashes. Spencer Ware leads the AFC in yards from scrimmage. Travis Kelce ranks second in the league among tight ends for receiving yards. But the offense ranks just 23rd in total yard with 332.3 yards per game and 17th in scoring with 23 points per game.
2. The Marcus Peters and Antonio Brown Show
How the Chiefs and Steelers matchup Peters against Brown promises to be an exciting chess match.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said the team needs to provide support to whomever covers Brown.
“You’ve got to know where 84 is, period,” Johnson said, talking about Brown. “That’s just what it is. You can’t leave somebody on an island a lot, because he’s that good. It doesn’t matter who he’s on, he’s going to beat you.”
The Chiefs primarily play corners on their own side of the field, with Peters on the left, rather than follow a receiver. But Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he’s prepared to track Peters on every play.
“If you have a guy that just eliminates the side of the field, as an offense you’re kind of stuck,” Roethlisberger said. “You just have to pick and choose your battles.”
3. Getting Chris Conley involved
Last year’s game against the Steelers marked the coming out party for Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley. The rookie snatched career-highs with six catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Conley learned just before the game that Jeremy Maclin would not play due to a concussion, and that he was next man up.
“It was an awesome opportunity,” Conley said, “a little bit daunting at that point, I hadn’t had a lot of snaps at that point, I hadn’t had a lot of practice, it was still early in the year.”
Conley has 9 catches for 102 yards through the first three games of the season.
“Pittsburgh is a hard-nosed team,” Conley said, “they know how to play, they have a history of playing good defense, and that’s the team that we expect to get Sunday.”
4. Keep calm and intercept the ball
The days of Monday Night Football ruling the roost are past. Now Sunday Night Football is the game of the week, and it’s only natural for veterans and rookies alike to get pumped for Sunday night.
“The veteran guys need to talk to the young guys, tell them what it’s all about,” Reid said. “For your first time, I’m sure they’ll have some wide eyes, but they’ll settle in.”
Primetime hasn’t been kind to the Chiefs under Reid. The team is 2-5 games under the lights, and have lost four straight primetime games. The team’s last primetime win came in week four of the 2014 season, a 41-14 domination of the New England Patriots.
The raucous crowd and primetime excitement make it critical for the Chiefs to settle into their game plan quickly.
5. More Peters love
Yes, the reigning AFC defensive player of the week deserves two mentions in the Friday Fast Five.
The question of the week is, “Why do teams keep passing toward Marcus Peters?”
The quick answers says that in today’s NFL, it’s hard to avoid one player and shut off one part of the field, Roethlisberger said.
“There’s some corners out there like Marcus and (Richard) Sherman, and (Josh) Normans, and (Darrelle) Revises and (Patrick) Petersons,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s some really good corners out there that you can’t avoid but you got to know.”
But Peters may be at a tipping point. Last year team’s challenged the rookie, and Peters surrendered yards while generating turnovers. But Peters increasingly just creates turnovers and surrenders fewer and fewer yards.
The Steelers pose a test to see if they keep Brown away from Peters and if they throw toward his side of the field.